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Couch v. Appling ITF

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

August 20, 2019

APPLING ITF, et al., Defendants.



         Pro se Plaintiff Jeffrey Hoyt Couch, a prisoner who is presently incarcerated at the Oglethorpe County Jail in Lexington, Georgia, has filed a Complaint seeking relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (ECF No. 1), a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis (ECF No. 2), and a motion for appointed counsel (ECF No. 5). For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis, DENIES his motion for appointed counsel, DISMISSES without prejudice Plaintiff's claims against the Georgia Department of Corrections (“GDC”), and TRANSFERS Plaintiff's remaining claims to the Southern District of Georgia.

         I. Motion to Proceed in Forma Pauperis

          28 U.S.C. § 1915 allows the district courts to authorize the commencement of a civil action without prepayment of the normally-required fees upon a showing that the plaintiff is indigent and financially unable to pay the filing fee. A prisoner seeking to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP”) under this section must provide the district court with both (1) an affidavit in support of his claim of indigence and (2) a certified copy of his prison “trust fund account statement (or institutional equivalent) for the 6-month period immediately preceding the filing of the complaint.” § 1915(a)(1)-(2).

         In this case, Plaintiff's pauper's affidavit and trust account statement show that he is currently unable to prepay the Court's filing fee. Plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis (ECF No. 2) is thus GRANTED and Plaintiff will be assessed an initial partial filing fee of $0.00. Plaintiff, however, is still obligated to pay the full balance of the filing fee, in installments, as set forth in § 1915(b) and explained below. It is accordingly requested that the CLERK forward a copy of this ORDER to the business manager of the facility in which Plaintiff is incarcerated so that withdrawals from his account may commence as payment towards the filing fee. The district court's filing fee is not refundable, regardless of the outcome of the case, and must therefore be paid in full even if the Plaintiff's Complaint (or any part thereof) is dismissed prior to service.

         A. Directions to Plaintiff's Custodian

         It is hereby ORDERED that the warden of the institution wherein Plaintiff is incarcerated, or the sheriff of any county wherein he is held in custody, and any successor custodians, each month cause to be remitted to the Clerk of this Court twenty percent (20%) of the preceding month's income credited to Plaintiff's account at said institution until the $350.00 filing fee has been paid in full. In accordance with provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), Plaintiff's custodian is hereby authorized to forward payments from the prisoner's account to the Clerk of Court each month until the filing fee is paid in full, provided the amount in the account exceeds $10.00. It is further ORDERED that collection of monthly payments from Plaintiff's trust fund account shall continue until the entire $350.00 has been collected, notwithstanding the dismissal of Plaintiff's lawsuit or the granting of judgment against him prior to the collection of the full filing fee.

         B. Plaintiff's Obligations Upon Release

         An individual's release from prison does not excuse his prior noncompliance with the provisions of the PLRA. In the event Plaintiff is hereafter released from the custody of the State of Georgia or any county thereof, he shall remain obligated to pay those installments justified by the income to his prisoner trust account while he was still incarcerated. Collection from Plaintiff of any balance due on these payments by any means permitted by law is hereby authorized in the event Plaintiff is released from custody and fails to remit such payments. Plaintiff's Complaint is subject to dismissal if he has the ability to make such payments and fails to do so or if he otherwise fails to comply with the provisions of the PLRA.

         II. Motion for Appointed Counsel

         Plaintiff has also filed a document that has been construed as a motion for appointment of counsel (ECF No. 5). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1), the Court “may request an attorney to represent any person unable to afford counsel.” There is, however, “no absolute constitutional right to the appointment of counsel” in a § 1983 lawsuit. Poole v. Lambert, 819 F.2d 1025, 1028 (11th Cir. 1987) (per curiam). Appointment of counsel is a privilege that is justified only by exceptional circumstances. Lopez v. Reyes, 692 F.2d 15, 17 (5th Cir. 1982). In deciding whether legal counsel should be provided, the Court considers, among other factors, the merits of Plaintiff's claims and the complexity of the issues presented. Holt v. Ford, 862 F.2d 850, 853 (11th Cir. 1989) (en banc). But “[t]he key” in determining whether appointed counsel is warranted “is whether the pro se litigant needs help in presenting the essential merits of his position to the court.” Nelson v. McLaughlin, 608 Fed.Appx. 904, 905 (11th Cir. 2015) (per curiam) (holding that court did not abuse its discretion in denying appointed counsel where prisoner “articulated his claims for relief in his complaint and filed several responsive pleadings and motions before the district court in which he accurately cited the essential facts, legal arguments, and relevant law”).

         In this case, Plaintiff has filed a complaint on a standard § 1983 form. The Court is required to review the Complaint to determine whether Plaintiff's allegations state a colorable legal claim. This process is routine in pro se prisoner actions and is thus not an “exceptional circumstance” justifying appointment of counsel. The facts stated in Plaintiff's Complaint are not complicated, the law governing Plaintiff's claims is neither novel nor complex, and Plaintiff has had no apparent difficulty communicating the merits of his claims to the Court. Plaintiff's motion to appoint counsel (ECF No. 5) is accordingly DENIED. If, however, it becomes apparent at some point later in these proceedings that counsel should be appointed in this case, Plaintiff may file a renewed motion.

         III. Preliminary Screening

         A. Stand ...

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